Where injured sea critters live

The Clearwater Marine Aquarium has more than just rescued dolphins. They also take in other injured animals from all over. You are greated by these white pelicans when you first come into the aquarium. They have a lot of character but the glare on the glass is a challenge.

After walking around for a while, we realized we could see them from the other side as well. They had moved over to the inside of the exhibit and I think I bonded over this one for a second.

Up close with some crabs.

You can also see stingrays up close.

All of the turtles here have some type of injury. The top one had lost his back flippers and the bottom one lost his front flippers. There are all types of injuries, most of them here are man made. Boat strikes, getting flippers tangled in fishing line or crab trap lines. The aquarium also rehabilitates a lot of turtles when red tide (algea bloom) is bad but any of those that recover are released.

Looking for dolphins

The weather was too nice during the week of Thanksgiving not to be outside all week. My sister and I booked a dolphin tour out of the Clearwater marina one morning. Even if we didn’t see any dolphins, it would be a fun trip out on the water.

We were not going out to far, staying in the intercoastal waterway area. The tide was super low so we had to stay right at the channel markers. I could see Sand Key beach far off to the right.

Right away we saw a dolphin! We were cruising along next to another tour boat and a dolphin was right behind them, chasing the waves. Of course we were facing right into the sun so it was hard to get good shots. I see a lot of dolphins down at Fort Desoto but rarely see them coming out of the water this much so this was fun.

Some of the birds we saw cruising around including two white pelicans flying high up.

We also saw several dolphins chasing fish into the sea walls. They were flapping the water hard to stun the fish. After all of the dolphin sightings we headed out to a small spit island to look for shells. More on that later.

Our World Tuesday Graphic

Early morning on the beach.

I got to Fort Desoto Park after the sun had come up but it was hiding behind a big cloud. I was able to catch the orange glow behind the cloud though, right over the Sunshine Skyway Bridge.

I was hoping to find the big flock of white pelicans who had been hanging out at the park for weeks now but I could only find 2 out at the north end. 

I know I have a million pictures of the reddish egret but I can’t help stopping and snapping a few more when he’s dancing around for his fish. He was hanging out in a tide pool and was putting on a show.

A few other birds on the beach was a turkey vulture cleaning up the beach eating a dead fish and a great blue heron strutting around.

I was walking on a back trail hoping to find the white pelicans in the back lagoon and saw this eagle flying in to a tree right in front of me. He landed in a dead tree which was good since he would have been hidden in the leaves if the the tree was still alive. He stayed for a few seconds and grabbed a branch before taking off. Assuming he was heading back to the nest across the park.

Pelicans flying across the clouds.

I stopped by the fishing pier before leaving but it was quiet. I couldn’t help but snap the cormorant drying his wings and then I noticed this crow trying to eat a piece of paper. He played with it for a few minutes but finally realized he couldn’t eat it so he dropped it in the water. Ugh. More trash.

Our World Tuesday Graphic

Things have changed.

The non-profit Clearwater Marine Aquarium opened on Clearwater Beach in 1972 in a former water treatment plant. They opened as a research and learning center and by 1980 they started rehabilitating dolphins. I don’t remember going there as a child when we use to come down to Clearwater to visit my grandparents but I do remember visiting a few times with my parents when they retired down here in the early 90’s. When Brett and I moved down here 19 years ago I got an annual pass and took my Mom there to see the dolphins a lot. She was in a retirement home and was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. She lived close by and it made for a fun morning out for her. She loved just sitting and watching the dolphins and turtles swimming around. Back then you could park at the front door and walk right in. No parking decks or lines to get in, You could also get pretty close up to the dolphins.

The aquarium is home to Winter (the movie star from A Dolphin’s Tale). Winter lost her tail years ago and the aquarium was able to get a prosthetic tail to help her swim better. It’s been several years since I had been and they recently had a big addition built on (they added a 1.5 million gallon tank) so I decided to head over to the beach to see Winter on a rare Monday off. I had to pay to park in a deck, stand in a line (small one though) to get in on a Monday. I’m glad they are doing so well though. They do a lot with injured sea life here. Not just rehabilitating them here but they send teams out to rescue as well.

You walk in on the upper level and can see into the pool. I didn’t take many pictures up here since it was dark inside and the dolphins were swimming lower down in the water. This is not a dolphin show like in the old days. These are injured dolphins that are being rehabilitated that you get to see up close. Although if you hit it right at feeding time, the dolphins do perform specific behaviors as part of feeding but no jumping out of the water and flipping over.

Here’s were you want to be. There are windows all around the tank so you can walk around and see different dolphins. Winter and her best friend Hope are in the main tank.

Winter did not have on her prostetic tail while I was there. You can see she is missing her flipper. Se came pretty close to the window.

On the other side there were several other dolphins swimming close to the window. The glare from the window did not make it easy to get pictures. The dolphins in the main tank live here full time now. They all have some type of injury including vision loss, hearing loss and other illnesses where they would not survive being released back into the wild. The main goal is to release the dolphins back out and most of them do get set free after they recover.

There are also many other types of animals here including lots of turtles. All were injured at some time. You can see in that (blurry) picture on the bottom that the turtle is missing his front feet.

The new building from the upper parking deck.

Pano across the intercoastal waterway looking towards Clearwater.

Looking toward the beach from the aquarium. I should have gone over for a quick swim but the beach was packed in April, even on a Monday. Parking on the beach is also tough and expensive so there’s that. And, I was starving so it was time to head home for lunch.

Yes, masks were still required in April here. Even though a lot of it is outside, people crowd in front of the windows. Hoping my next trip is maskless.

image-in-ing: weekly photo linkup

Our World Tuesday Graphic

White marshmallows in the gulf

In early November I headed out to Fort Desoto late in the day. I rarely go late in the day but it had been nasty that morning and then the sky cleared up. I was hoping to see the white pelicans again before they took off for another spot in the state to spend the rest of the winter. They were still out on the spit but this time most of them were on the sand instead of in the water. It looks like they were winding down for the day and getting ready for bed.

Zooming in, I could see many of them already starting to sleep. One by one they were starting to plop down on the sand.

A few were still stretching and preening.

Some were still taking that late day bath.

They all looked pretty fat and happy but looks could be deceiving. Hopefully that’s they case and they are all filling up on fish during their short stay.

My Corner of the World

Pelicans, wood ducks and swans (Oh my!).

Lake Morton in Lakeland is a good spot to find white pelicans in the winter besides Fort Desoto. There are a lot fewer at Lake Morton but you can usually get closer. They hang out on the brick retaining walls around the lake. Most of the time they are sleeping when I’m there but on a recent trip they were moving around a little. I think two of them were fighting over space on the floating pole.

A coot swimming by.

Wood ducks were napping up in the cypress trees and some were swimming around the lake.

There’s always turtles sitting on the cypress knees.

The city of Lakeland were selling swans in late October. When I was there they were in holding pens on the lake. I felt bad that they were leaving their home but there have been banner crops of babies over the last few years and the lake is over-run with swans. Swans were getting hit by cars and fighting with each other. Hopefully they’ll go to homes that have more room for them. If I had a small pond on my property I would buy a pair. The money goes back into the fund to feed the swans at this lake.

Not that early for sunrise

Sunrise at East Beach at Fort Desoto. No, I wasn’t up that early. This was in late October before the time changed so it was right before 7:30. There was a small cloud right above the bridge that kept the sun from being clear but it was still a great sky.

As I stood there watching the sun come up, I could see the frigatebirds starting to circle high up in the sky. They were coming from across the bay and then ended up right over my head.

Once the sun was up it was time to go hang out with the white pelicans.

SkyWatch Friday

“Snow birds” at Fort Desoto.

I could see the tiny white dots far out in the water when I first walked on to the beach at Fort Desoto. I knew it would take me a good 15 minutes to walk up Outback Key to get even remotely close to them (the above is taken with my 300mm and cropped up). I was hoping someone didn’t come along and spook them before I got out there or that they didn’t take off for the other side of the park.

I finally made it out to the farther area and the white pelicans were busy preening along the shallow end. I snapped a few pictures and then they started taking off.

Luckily they just flew around in a circle and landed in the water close by. They eventually made their way back to the shallow end of the spit. It was a beautiful sight, seeing them all flying around over head. Although, they were a little awkward trying to land. The white pelicans are not year round residents here. They come in the winter for a short time and the last few years they have stayed mostly hidden, hanging out in spits much farther away. There were several other photographers there this morning and I think people have coming to see the pelicans pretty regularly since they arrived.

Something about them makes them such a treat to see so close up. I guess I always think back to the comical pelican “Rufus” in the movie Dolphin Tale. I I think he stole the movie.

She doesn’t look as close as this picture makes it look but she was brave getting out there in waist deep water. I stayed on land or at least ankle deep water. I was afraid one big wave or hole would knock me over and I’d be diving for my camera (even with a tripod). The water was a little choppy this morning.

My Corner of the World

Meet Morton

Since mid-October there’s been a wild turkey hanging out at Lake Morton near downtown Lakeland. At least everyone thinks she’s wild. There’s a few parks and preserves close by so she could have wandered far off her path and ended up here. The neighborhood did a naming poll and the name Morton stuck. She seemed pretty domesticated to me. I found her as I was walking around the lake and she came pretty close to me. People have probably been feeding her. All of the turkeys I’ve seen out in the woods are very skittish and run away pretty quickly. She better be hiding this week.

She was strutting around like she owned the lake. There are brick retaining walls in a few places around the lake and the white pelicans along with the ducks like to nap there. She walked up to the pelicans which are much bigger than her and chased them off the wall.

She then strutted over to another wall and chased the ducks away. The pelicans had moved on and were climbing up onto another wall and she went over and chased them again. She was causing a lot of chaos this morning. It will be interesting to see how long she’s there.

Annual trip to the electric plant

After a really cold week, I headed over to the TECO (Tampa Electric Co) plant to see the manatees that hang out there in the winter. The warm water coming off the electric plant in the lagoon keeps the manatees warm during the coldest weeks. Years ago, the plant built a manatee viewing center with a big deck that wraps around part of the lagoon. All of those dots in the water are manatees. There were hundreds of them the morning I was there in late January.

The plant says that the smoke coming out of the stack is actually clean steam.  It doesn’t feel smoky when you are there and the sky was clear blue.

Part of the deck overlooking the lagoon. This was still early in the day before the big crowds get here. I got here well before they opened at 10am and waiting in line to park and was out before lunch. They can get crazy crowded and parking is a challenge when the manatees are here in large numbers. The news channels report on them when there’s been a prolonged cold spell so everyone heads over including me.

Some of the birds around the plant.  White pelicans were flying high, a young night heron flew by the deck and a vulture was sitting on a platform built for an osprey nest.

Down at the very end of the lagoon, it’s roped off so boaters or kayakers cannot follow the manatees into the area. There is no swimming with the manatees here.

There’s usually some stingrays splashing around.

I took a ton of manatee pictures so more to come on those.

SkyWatch Friday